Big Sam: School sport so vital
school. West Ham's former Bolton and Blackburn manager believes the professional game has been "undermined" by decisions made during the Margaret Thatcher-led Conservative government. Allardyce said in The Sun: "Since Margaret Thatcher stopped teachers being paid extra money for coaching sports after school, all sporting activities have diminished on a competitive basis." He added: "Thatcher killed football, no doubt about it." The consequence, according to Allardyce, is "a lesser quality of players" and "unhealthy" youngsters, with clubs spurred to sign up children at increasingly young ages to ensure they have opportunities to participate in sport. "This was a working-class game but it's only at private schools where the children get the sports opportunities I had - and even then a lot of them don't play football, it's mainly rugby," Allardyce said. "Despite putting in place all sorts of advanced academy systems at clubs, we are only producing half the players the school system used to. "Our [West Ham] youth trainer, Tony Carr, is fighting to find the next Ferdinands and Lampards with one hand tied behind his back." Allardyce suggests the Football Association's head of elite development, Gareth Southgate, is doing the right thing by encouraging small-scale games for children rather than have them play on full-size pitches. "But until we wake up and realise how important school sport is to our kids, we will never repair the damage," Allardyce said. In December, the current Conservative government was forced into a partial U-turn on its plan to axe the Schools Sports Partnership when ministers announced there would be £65million of funding made available to promote competitive sports in schools over three years. Education Secretary Michael Gove said that a further £47million would be made available to allow the partnerships to continue up to the end of the current academic year. The £65million from the Department for Education's budget for the period to 2013/14 will allow every secondary school to release one PE teacher for a day a week to "embed" the benefits from the scheme into its sports provision, Gove said. The selected teachers will aim to encourage greater take-up of competitive sport in primary schools and secure a fixture network for schools to increase the amount of competition within and between schools. Gove's previous announcement that he planned to abolish the £162million-a-year School Sports Partnership sparked protests from the sporting community and headteachers, with Olympic athletes including Denise Lewis signing a letter calling for a rethink. Labour said in December that School Sports Partnerships had "transformed" participation in sports, helping increase the proportion of young people doing two hours or more each week from 25 per cent to more than 90 per cent.